Roj TV: The Victim of Turkey’s Political Games


On January 12th, 2005 the Turkish Embassy in Denmark filed a complaint against the Kurdish TV-channel Roj TV to the Danish Radio and Television Board for being a mouthpiece for the Kurdish rebel group, PKK.

The board rejected the embassy’s complaint but this was not the end; it was just the beginning of Turkey’s tenacious endeavors to close what they considered a mouthpiece for PKK. A timeline of the Roj TV case can be found here and background information on Roj TV can be read here.

The latest verdict in the case was announced on July 3rd. It was an appeal of the verdict from January 2012 and was, to the Kurdish community’s surprise, a more severe sentence than the original one. Soon after the announcement of the verdict, the official court document  was released. Owing to the fact that it consists of statements that I find harming to freedom of speech and people’s trust in the justice system, I want to raise awareness about some of the aspects of the trial.

The Assessment of PKK

The indictment focused on three points:

1) Is PKK a terrorist organization?

2) Have the prosecuted companies promoted the activities of PKK through ROJ TV broadcasting in the period June 10th, 2006 to September 24th, 2010?

3) Have there been personal, financial, organizational and historical connections between the prosecuted companies’ broadcasting and PKK?

The critical point is number one because if PKK is not labeled a “terrorist organization”, the last two points mentioned above will not be as relevant. On page 92 in the court’s summary of the Roj TV appeal trial, it can be read that

In order to be found guilty as charged, PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistan, The Kurdistan Worker’s Party) has to be a terror organization according to penal law.

The fact that Turkey, the European Union, the US and a number of other countries, list PKK as a terrorist organization is insufficient in court. It has to be independently assessed whether or not PKK is a terror organization because obviously political agendas have no influence on the decision-making in the system of justice, especially not in Denmark. Or do they?

The essential question is: Where did the court get its information about PKK? Because for the survival of Roj TV, for the sake of freedom of speech and press and for the credibility of the court, it is crucial that an independent and objective assessment on whether or not PKK is a terrorist organization is made.

It was an anonymous witness from CTA (Centre for Terror Analysis) which was established in PET (Danish Security and Intelligence Service who made the evaluation of PKK for the court.

The CTA produces analyses and assessments based on open and closed sources and finally compiles threat assessments.

The anonymous witness has been researching the PKK since 2006 and contributed with his/her knowledge about PKK in court. The court document mentions that the CTA did not co-operate with Turkish authorities when making statements nor was the CTA involved in the interrogation of people in Turkey conducted by the police.

The court document lists four specific sources used by the anonymous witness:

Global Terrorism Database is an organization that follows terror attacks around the world. It is used by, i.a., scientists. An American authority and a university run it. It is a recognized source.

The Global Terrorism Database (GTD)  is funded by the National Institute of Justice, “the research, development and evaluation agency of the U.S. Department of Justice.”

RAND Database of Worldwide Terrorism Incidents is an American think-tank that deals with security and terrorism. They collect information about attacks. They are highly esteemed and are used by, i.a., ministries. Among other things they compile reports. This is a highly esteemed and used source. They receive money from the American government and privates. They also sell services.

NCTC Worldwide Incidents Tracking System is an organization with several hundreds analysts and researchers. NCTC stands for National Counter Terrorism Center. They prepare threat assessments and analyses. This is an American version of CTA, which uses open sources. It is a highly esteemed database.

The NCTC, too, is a United States government organization. is an organization in England that consists of independent security companies and offers consulting in security to states and privates. It is a highly esteemed and very used database.

It should be cause for concern that three out of the four mentioned sources are either a US government organization or funded by the US government. The foundation of the trial was supposed to be an objective assessment of PKK with information gathered from objective, independent sources; that failed. The US government is one of the states that have PKK on its terror list, a list that is based on political agendas. The US also has an interest in continuing to define PKK as a terror group: its relations with the ally Turkey, which is probably the worst violator of Kurdish rights.

So the court failed to provide a credible foundation for its designation of PKK as a terrorist organization. Did the document provide other information that made me question the “justice” part of “the system of justice”?

Of course!

Since I was a kid, I have been taught to look at or at least try to look at all sides of a case before concluding anything about it. Apparently neither the anonymous witness from CTA nor the court found it necessary to look at both side in the war between PKK and Turkey as this was stated in the court document:

They [the CTA] look at, i.a., groups who fight governments. They do not look at the states’ fights against terror groups.

PKK has been criticized by the UN and a number of human rights organizations, i.a., Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The witness is aware of the fact that organizations have also criticized Turkey but CTA has in the statement only focused on the PKK.

And so they forgot Turkey.

Forgetting Turkey

I feel compelled to share a long but important paragraph about Turkey from the court document, as it is a good indication of the reluctance to recognize that it takes two to tango and that Turkey, a great ally of the West, is a phenomenal dancer.

It is thus evident from the preparatory work that terrorism is defined in correlation with the legitimate state that is built on democracy and the principle of a constitutional state.

Turkey is a democratic society that is built on the principle of a constitutional state. Turkey has a democratically elected legislative assembly and government. Furthermore, Turkey is a member of the European Council that is, i.a., built on democracy and the principle of a constitutional state.

The fact that Turkey in a couple of cases at the European Court of Human Rights has been convicted of violating the European Convention on Human Rights, including cases about the authorities handling of the Kurdish situation in Turkey, cannot lead to another result.

Furthermore, Turkey cannot be considered an occupying power in parts of the country’s own territory, and PKK’s fight cannot be considered a battle against an occupying power, and the fight cannot be considered a part of armed forces’ activities during armed conflicts as defined in the humanitarian law of nations.

On this basis and considering the character and extent of PKK’s actions, the High Court finds after an overall assessment that the armed struggle of PKK against the Turkish state to achieve the organization’s aims is terrorism according to the penal law.

The fact that PKK after negotiations with the Turkish government has declared ceasefire on March 21st, 2013 and has begun a withdrawal of the organization’s guerillas from Turkey to Northern Iraq on May 8th, 2013, can also not lead to a different result.

I will leave it to the reader to form an opinion on whether or not Turkey is a democratic country and whether or not it is an occupying power in Kurdistan.

If the court had taken the part of Turkey, the part of the state into consideration, the outcome would have been different. Perhaps the judges would have concluded “But oooh, according to many, many credible documents and witnesses and experts, whoever speaks up against the violation of human rights carried out by the Turkish state is accused of promoting division of the Turkish people, disrupting “national security” and posing a threat to the territorial integrity of Turkey. Maybe, just maybe Turkey plays a part in this war too?”

The flaw is flabbergasting: The court made a judgment based on a one-sided presentation that is in the favor of the Turkish state.

A political decision to close Roj TV

There is every reason to believe that this verdict and other efforts to close Roj TV are based on the political interests of Turkey, the US and Denmark; mostly because a Turkish Ambassador in Copenhagen said it himself in 2006:

”Guven said that the Turkish Ambassador in Copenhagen demarched the Danish MFA Under Secretary on March 30 to “take a political decision” to shut Roj TV, as the UK and France had done with Roj TV’s predecessor media outlets.” […]

Recognizing and appreciating past U.S. support with the Danish government, he asked that the United States make another urgent, parallel demarche to the Danish government in support of Turkey’s request. Repeating that the atmosphere in Ankara was nervous and tense, he also said that making U.S. support for Turkey on this subject known to the Turkish press would be very important for Turkish public opinion.

Documents on WikiLeaks confirmed that an agreement about Roj TV was made in 2010 between a Turkish representative and Anders Fogh Rasmussen, former Prime Minister of Denmark, now Secretary General of NATO. Fogh wanted to resign as Prime Minister and take over the job as Secretary General but this could only happen if Turkey voted in favor of him. But because of Roj TV that had license to broadcast from Denmark, Turkey was not keen on helping Fogh. Naturally this changed when they made a deal about closing Roj TV.

Berlusconi, then PM of Italy, said that the final agreement included “closure or banishment from Denmark of a TV-station that Erdogan [Turkey’s Prime Minister] believes is affiliated with PKK.”

The following is an extract of a summary from the meeting between Turkey and the US Vice Secretary of State on February 18th, 2010, almost a year after Fogh was elected Secretary General of NATO:

“Tacan Ildem (Turkish ambassador in the US) added that, as part of the 2009 POTUS-brokered deal that had overcome Turkish objections to the appointment of Anders Fogh Rasmussen as NATO Secretary General, Denmark had promised to clarify its legal requirements prerequisite to acceding to Turkey’s request for the closure of Roj TV, a PKK mouthpiece. This still needed to be done, Ildem said.”

Another Wikileaks cable (seems to be dated October 9th, 2009 and classified as confidential) reads

Stressing that the Government cannot intervene in the independence of the prosecutorial function, Ahrenkiel [national security advisor] emphasized that it has impressed upon prosecutors the  importance of the case.

He said the prosecutors are  encouraged by the latest evidence Turkey has provided and  hope to conclude their investigation this autumn. (He noted  the possibility that the investigation could continue past autumn.)  He acknowledged that a decision not to prosecute  would create “a big crisis” between Turkey and Denmark.

There is a fear that Roj TV broadcasting from Denmark will create “a big crisis” between Turkey and Denmark and I suspect they are not talking about the crisis that involves the Danish system of justice being highly dominated by political influence.

Just remember, I did not first bring up the words “political decision” used about the closure of Roj TV – these were the exact words of the Turkish authorities themselves. So who can deny it?

The trial of Roj TV is not only about a Kurdish TV-channel. The trial shows that there is reason to fear that a government can and sometimes will influence the process of a trial, if it is in its interest. Just look at the last quote: “Stressing that the Government cannot intervene in the independence of the prosecutorial function, Ahrenkiel [national security advisor] emphasized that it has impressed upon prosecutors the importance of the case.”

It’s as if that quote was taken out of a typical American thriller.

Roj TV represents the Kurdish voice that remains threatened worldwide. The verdict was an undeserved victory for Turkey’s ongoing attempts to silence all criticism against its injustices.

It has been proven once again that Turkey’s magnitude of political bullying and foul agendas extend far beyond its own borders. It is only a shame that the Danish court fell prey.

For more information about the document or the trial, contact @nailabozo

The Alliance for Kurdish Rights aims to amplify diverse Kurdish voices. Views expressed by our authors and contributors are not necessarily our own. We welcome constructive and respectful feedback and discussions. If you’d like to contribute to AKR, join us.